Forster MMA owner Col Osborn had no idea that bullying had gone up so significantly in the local area in the time his business had been shut.
With a strong focus on equipping his students with the skills to combat bullying at school and beyond, he said it came as a shock to hear some of the stories filtering back to him once his students returned.
"It was just so prevalent," Mr Osborn said.
"I didn't know until the classes came back."
Up and running now since June 16, Mr Osborn is glad to once again be passing on his extensive knowledge of martial arts to his wide range of students, but the transition back to being operational hasn't exactly been straightforward.
Shutting down alongside other gyms around the State on March 23, Mr Osborn said he prepared himself mentally for 12 weeks of not being able to operate.
JobKeeper helped alleviate the financial pressure the forced closure thrust on his business, but ironically it was when gyms were allowed to reopen again that things became more uncertain.
We set the whole business up to be community-focussed, so we couldn't very well go and break the rules ourselves.Col Osborn
Given much of the training that occurred in his gym involved contact and engaging at close quarters, Mr Osborn said it was unclear how he was supposed to effectively run his classes while maintaining the 1.5 metre physical distancing rule.
Ongoing discussions with Service NSW did little to clarify the issue, and so at the expense of getting his business back on track, Mr Osborn decided against reopening Forster MMA immediately.
As frustrating as this was - especially knowing a number of fighting gyms around the State had continued to operate behind closed doors throughout the pandemic - Mr Osborn said it was a matter of principle.
"We set the whole business up to be community-focussed, so we couldn't very well go and break the rules ourselves," he said.
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When Forster MMA did reopen, the changes Mr Osborn felt he needed to implement in order to be compliant left him feeling like his training had been compromised.
"We did two weeks of modified training, but realistically you've got to have that impact," he said.
Thankfully, he was given confirmation he could resume pad work close to a fortnight ago, and as a result, training at the gym had taken on a more normal feel.
But with class sizes split and a range of other precautionary measures in place, Mr Osborn says his gym is still only operating at around 80 per cent of its full training capacity.
He believes when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gets the all-clear - given its reliance on grappling - he should be able to provide the full range of training he offers.
But it hasn't all been bad news, with a good proportion of his students coming back and the support he's received from the community reminding him that his business has had a positive impact on a lot of people's lives.
Importantly, he's also back helping those who need it.
"It's probably the kids who have struggled the most that are the happiest to be back," he said.
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The pandemic also gave Mr Osborn the opportunity to expand his own skill set, which was something he'd been wanting to do for a while.
He completed three training courses in the three months he was unable to teach, all related to better assisting students with autism.
Given the increase in autistic students he continues to see at the gym, he says the experience has been invaluable.
"It was the best thing I've done in 10 years," he said.
"That's an area I'm really keen on."
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